Life is sometimes best shown in the obscure

Written in 365 Parts: 122: Waste Nothing

The readout on the oxygen bottle showed it to be at ninety-five percent. That was good. It meant that with good breathing control, and the use of the rebreather, advanced chemical filtration of blood and body fluids, they could survive for close to sixty hours. This was much more preferable to minutes.

Drick flicked a camera view and watched the tail of the ship, now a speck to normal eyes but still clear on the suits telescopic sensor. They had started maximum burn which meant that there was literally no hope of sending any form of visual signal they were likely to notice, even if they did care. Drick was alone. In the bleakness of space with a small amount of propellant to move around and two and a half days of air. If Drick could have wasted the breath they would have used it cursing quite loudly into the blackness.

But they didn’t have the breath to spare. They couldn’t waste anything. It was time to start examining everything that was around and close enough to be used. Drick used the suit sensors and a visual search of all the objects in the immediate vicinity. It didn’t take very long, there wasn’t very much nearby. The only interesting item was the body of the person who attacked Drick. They were close enough to be reached with the last of the propellant.

Drick set the suits computer to once again working out the angle, trajectory and burst lengths that would take them to the body. While the suit was doing that Drick made sure to do a thorough check of the suit and make sure the oxygen supply was properly attached and set to the minimum usage.

A few minutes later Drick was once again propelling themselves across the empty reaches of space. This time it was an agonising seventy minutes to reach the form of the dessicated corpse. Drick took the journey slowly and carefully. They didn’t want to run out of propellant or expend too much energy on the task. 

The corpse was floating in a lazy tumble and Drick used the propellant to match the motion and then attach a safety line. It was a waste of energy to stop the corpse and so matching its spin was the wisest course of action. It took a few moments to search the suit. It was a soft suit of an old design which was inconvenient as it meant that the oxygen supply hadn’t turned off when the suit was damaged. There was no extra oxygen.

A check of the pockets recovered a short range mining radio, a small plasma cutter and a set of autokeys. So they were clearly part of the team that had boarded the ship and they used short range communication and lock  picks to get around. The plasma cutter was likely for any door or lock that the auto keys couldn’t manage.

Drick slowly unzipped and removed the suit. Inside the outfit they were dressed in a cheap jumpsuit. With some slight surprise Drick noted that they had a small projectile weapon strapped to their thigh. Clearly they didn’t think about moving it to the outside of the soft suit. Or maybe they were hoping to move around unrecognised. It didn’t matter now. Drick pocketed the gun.

The item that Drick found in the other pocket made them smile. It wasn’t a happy smile though, just one of grim recognition and slight relief. The item was a burst transmitter. A location beacon that would send an omni-directional signal. It would probably call some nearby compatriots of the corpse in front of Drick. With a sigh Drick triggered the beacon. It was the only real chance of survival.

Written in 365 Parts: 121: Slow Drift

The asteroid that carried the eight stealth vessels had burnt up in the plante’s Mesosphere. The final remnants had shredded the sky with violent fire at a height of fifty-three kilometres. The intended target for the vessels was a building in the industrial sector of the city, but in the high level compound area. The exact landing spot for the first wave was at a height of four kilometres. The stealth suits needed to slowly drift forty-eight thousand seven hundred and thirty-nine metres to that point.

The suits moved at a rate of fifty-nine centimetres per second placing their total journey time at eighty-two thousand six hundred and eight seconds. Which was a shade under twenty-three hours. This was in addition to all the time spent within the asteroid. At least in the cocoon of rock they had a limited communications relay provided by a fibre connection so they could continue to practice the assault and indulge in discussion. But all communication stopped twelve hours before the insertion into the atmosphere to reduce to almost zero any chance of being detected.

For Marsh the wait seemed like a lot longer, it gave him too much time to dwell on the events that had brought him to this point and too much time for worry. He would have preferred immediate action or some mindless drug-induced narcotia. Instead he was wide awake with the demons of his consciousness.

Drick was calm. They had used the first hour to organise their thoughts and run over the sequence of the plan once again. Making sure that they had given enough options to allow for unexpected events. A tightly scripted method of assault, a definite objective, agreed upon routes of exit, but enough leeway in the instructions to allow changes in the field.

Once Drick had done the required thinking, and made sure to script the changes into the combat log that would be run when they reached the objective, they spent another thirty minutes preparing the body for maximum rest. It was going to be a long slow journey so it was a good time to get some deep relaxation. Drick set an internal alarm to bring them out of rest in fourteen hours so they could prepare for the coming mission with body toning exercises. At that point they could also take the nutrients, supplements, medication and fluids needed to keep them as sharp as possible.

Written in 365 Parts: 120: I Wasn't So Cold or Dead Inside

“What went wrong?”

“People died. I just wanted you out, wanted you to be the last. Or at least the last that I was responsible for.”

“I am not sure if you really are that responsible for me. I cannot judge that much. I want to feel anger at you. I really do. I feel rage inside at all the lies, at what I am, at who made me.” Marsh looked away at the corner of the room, not really seeing anything but his own thoughts. “But that’s not you. You were as much a pawn as I was. You just had an illusion of freedom. Sometimes maybe that’s all we have.”

“You should be angry at me. I am not a good person. For centuries I allowed them to take away the children and not fully care about what they did with them. What type of person does that? I cannot in any honesty say it is a good one.” She took a sip of her drink and took a deep breath, letting it out in spurts. “I fooled myself into thinking I wasn’t at fault and they could have used someone else. But that isn’t wholly true. I was complicit. I agreed. I was paid. I allowed that to happen. I was, I am, as much to blame.”

Marsh took a while before turning to look at her again. When he spoke it was calm but there was a tremor in his voice. “I don’t feel angry at you. Not right now. Why did you change?”

“I would love to tell you that when I gave birth to the first child, I realised that I had grown a life in me and that it changed me and made me special.” She bit of a laugh that was close to a scream of hysteria. She took a moment and then spoke again, “But that would be a lie. I felt only relief that it was over. Months of sickness, of being distorted, of feeling so tired, and heavy. I was glad to give birth. Not at the time though. So much blood, and sweat. I don’t remember the depths of the pain but I remember the weeks of recovery and the months it took for my body to feel like my own again. Those people who think it is all a rosy joy should try it, the medical technology allows us all to give it a go, I suggest that if you think it is a miracle you should be forced to enjoy that miracle first hand.”

“Sounds like you hated it?”

“I didn’t hate it. It is just not a pleasant experience. Evolution is cruel and harsh. If there was a good design to this it would be a zip and a small fully formed person, who could walk and talk and run around and look after themselves. That’s why we use tanks. No one uses the traditional method unless they have to. Colonists and the devoted are the only ones who subjugate people that way anymore.”

“So what changed?”

“Nothing changed. I just remembered that I wasn’t so cold or dead inside. I realised that I was doing something. I  was creating life the old fashioned way for sure, but as I said any machine can do that now, the mysticism is for the inane. What was important was not that I was giving life. I was a part of taking life. Your life. Repeatedly, your life. A part of me knew I had the connection of being your mother. Your surrogate. But I was just a biological sack. The part of me that cared was the part that didn’t want to be the cause of so many lives lost. The same life lost. Again and again. I had to save one of you. The last one that I was a part of.”

“Why are you dying?”

“I am old.”

“I heard that can be temporary these days?”

“It can be. But I have a degenerative gene. I have to replace a lot of my biology every few years. Each time it decays faster and more severely. It is manageable and I can easily last for centuries more. But I do not want to. I have learned that I have done enough. I want to die. But I also want to make sure that, before I did, I saved one of you. It isn’t a recompense, it is just the very least I could think of doing. I have nothing else.”

“I’m sorry.”

“What for?”

“Your pain. That you feel only death will end it.” Marsh bit the inside of his cheek. “I cannot end your pain. You have chosen your path and I don’t feel that I know how to change that and it might be the worst thing to do, if I did. But I can do one thing.”

She looked at Marsh tear falling from her eyes, “there is nothing you need to do for me.”

“There is.” Marsh stood and walked to her, he knelt in front of her and took her hands in his. “I forgive you, mother.” he put his arms around her and held on until she no longer wanted to be held.

Written in 365 Parts: 119: Servitude

The woman stood as Marsh walked through the door and into the room. Drick had told Marsh that she was identifying as female and was happy with female pronouns. “Hi,” he said after a brief pause.

“Hello,” she said uncertain. She smiled briefly and a slight look of puzzlement crossed her face. “You seem so young and yet older than I expected,” she said with a nervous laugh. “I don’t know what I was expecting really. Do you know who I am?”

“I know your name and I was told that you are the person who gave birth to me, which is a rarity on this planet.”

“It’s been a rarity for a long time. What do I call you?”

“Well I am not sure I can stomach you calling me son, so let’s stick with Marsh. Do you want to sit?”

“Yes,” again a tight smile, “thank you.” She sat down and waited for Marsh to take a seat. He pulled out a chair and sat opposite the one she had sat in.

“You wanted to see me?”

“Yes. I wanted to,” she paused, “I don’t know what I really wanted if I am honest. I think I wanted to apologise to maybe make something right. But I seem to have made a bad job of that.”

“Do you know what happened to the others? Like me?”

“I don’t have full details. I know they died.” She looked down. “I paid a researcher a considerable amount of money, over some length of time, to give me as many details as they knew. It was them in the car. The person who died. They had an accomplice who got away.”

“Who were they?”

“They worked at the lab where you were raised. I know they had experience with the last three of the Marsh children. They did the programming of events. I don’t fully understand what it was about and they didn’t explain much to me. I saw them a few times while I was pregnant before tracking them and approaching them. They were the most likely person to respond to my offers of money.”

“How did you know that?”

“Expensive detection work revealed they had a lavish lifestyle they enjoyed but could barely afford.”

“Money. Figures. And their friend?”

“Another researcher at the lab. I have a bit of information about them. I had a name and a contact number which I guess is a start. I met them a few times, they generally switched their look a lot. Advantages of working out of a major pharma genetics lab I imagine.”

“I guess that you should tell us everything you know. I have no doubt that Drick will want to talk to them. I know I do.”

“Of course. Anything I can do to, well, help I guess.” She looked at the artwork being cast to the walls for a few minutes. “I never realised what I was signing up for, when I originally did this. You realise that?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know anything.”

“I suppose I seem like an inhuman monster or something.”

“Not really. Why don’t you tell me about it. I really don’t have many stories from real people in my memories, they are all fake, a different me. So it would be good to have something real, to know something about my own past and the lives of the people I am actually connected to.”

“Yes.” she paused again and took a sip from a drink. “I was greedy. I would love to claim that I was young, or naive, but that wasn’t true. I had been tanked almost forty years previously and was onto my third genetic alteration. I was working as a hostess for hire.”

“What’s that?”

“A well paid prostitute is what most people use the service for. But some just want to be seen with a partner who gives them all their attention. It is a power trip either way. A status symbol. If you can afford the rates of high class service staff you indicate your corporate position. So many of the executives are on the same basic pay grade, with duplicate houses, the only way they can show their bonuses is in objects. That’s what I was, an object on show.”

“Seems empty.”

“It was, it is. But you can earn a decent living and the clients are usually very respectful of boundaries and rules. I rarely had to insist on good behaviour and the tips were often generous.”

“So how did you wind up being a mother to the Marshs?”

“I had to have very regular health and genetic checks. People paid for a quality of person. I have always been fortunate in that my genetics were of very good quality and my tank was the best. A product of wealth and a parent who worked at the right genetic facility. I was invited to have a deeper set of DNA tests and examinations from my records kept by the organisation. They had discovered my close match to your parents.”

“How is that possible?”

“I really don’t know, I am not an expert in genetics.”

“Sorry, go on.”

“Well it was simple, they suggested that if I underwent a procedure to change my genetics to be an exact match I could be a surrogate for a child that they needed to be raised via natural birthing techniques. I would be the recipient of someone else’s sperm and egg, pre-combined of course. For that I would be paid handsomely, have access to medical procedures to extend my life and never work again. I jumped at the chance.”

“I see. So what changed?”

“I would love to say that giving away the first child was hard. But I am afraid it wasn’t. I knew I was getting a great deal and I had every reason to believe the child would be taken care of well since they had paid so much. I didn’t want children of my own. But when they asked me to do it again, it was a little harder. I grew tired so quickly of knowing nothing, I got little information. The money kept coming but I also knew that they had me only as an investment. They needed me alive and well so they could keep trying to make you, for whatever purpose they needed you. I was a hostess once more. A servant. A prize. Just a very expensive one. I had a significant wealth and I had managed to invest it well. So, although I continued to be a surrogate I started to amass money and the means to gather information. I have been thinking about what to do for over fifty years, I just didn’t know it would go so badly wrong.”

Written in 365 Parts: 118: Flight Time

There was a slight beeping just at the edge of hearing, soft but persistent, it echoed throughout the whole of the mind so that it felt as if every synapse was responding to the same dance. Consciousness flooded the body at the same moment, and suddenly the beeping may have been the tolling of a bell next to the eardrum as the mind focussed on its sudden intensity. Marsh came fully awake and realised the sound was inside his own head, an internal alarm triggered when the sleeping draught was exhausted.

He opened his eyes and then closed them again. It was pitch black so there was little point in using his actual eyes. He focussed on internal screens and willed them to give him the information he now suddenly craved.

It was early morning in the world outside. Flight time was currently at fifty-seven hours and there was still a further eight hours before touchdown. Good, that was plenty of time to get thoroughly bored and restless in anticipation. It was also plenty of time to check all the systems that he was able to and to make sure that he revised the schematics and orders a further few times. Preparation was the key to flexibility. Rigidity was a key to failure.

The readouts for his internal systems showed that he had a slightly elevated heart rate and some elevated neurological stresses. Hardly surprising this was going to be his first mission ever, and to his beleaguered mind also his first in over a thousand years. The two concepts sat easily together like soup and wellingtons. 

Marsh did a cursory check of the suit he was inside and then by using the interlink he also checked what he could of the exterior hard shell. It seemed as if they were exactly on course, however that was just trusting the readouts to be correct. From his limited knowledge unless there was some obvious error the vessel he was in had no way of truly determining if everything was proceeding as it should. He was in a stealth shell, that had been wrapped in an artificial asteroid and set on a destruction and incursion course over two days ago. There were no course changes and the mathematics had to be precise. If the data was wrong they would know about it only after landing, or crashing, whichever happened.

The whole notion of what had occurred in the last week still stunned Marsh whenever he had time to think about it. Aside from intensive combat training, some of which had been fast implanted into the memory capabilities of his implant. The device in his head could not replicate years of muscle development training, but it could give instant access to functions and schematics of weapons and systems, and it could enhance any intellect based skill. Marsh had also been informed of his true history and had met his mother.

Marsh paused in the checking of essential systems, leaving the automated systems to verify for him to confirm later, as his mind dwelt on that meeting.

Written in 365 Parts: 117: Incandescent Rage

The asteroid was approaching the planet’s atmosphere. Its course suggested that it was likely a rogue from the small belt between the orbit of the fifth and sixth planets of the system. Most of the debris that ended up pulled towards the inner planets came from this rocky region of space.

The rock had no name, it was too small to be individually named and identified. No doubt it had taken a slow journey inwards over millions of years, it may have even been trapped as a satellite for millennia before its ever decreasing orbits intersected that of the planet.

As soon as it came within range of tracking sensors, designed to protect close proximity of objects to the planet, it was identified and scanned. It was less than eighteen metres across and three high on its largest point. It looked like a badly fried egg. The structure of its materials was determined with a more precise tracking using a full set of sensors. 

A silicate based rock with some traces of carbon and iron, some other traces of metals, mostly heavy metals. There were indications of fused glasses, likely the product of some cataclysmic history. It had a nominal value that was not worth the effort of a ship launching and trapping the rock. 

The tracking computers detected large masses within the main rock, closer to the core of the asteroid. A modest artificial intelligence determined it was likely the product of several smaller asteroids that had collided. They must have all been pearls, heavier rocks that collected dust and particles over their long life and then collided with each other to form the wandering visitor.

A quick study determined that it would break up in the upper atmosphere to briefly exist as a series of small shooting stars that would lance across the skies and disintegrate completely. With the current course and composition it would last a few seconds in the upper atmosphere. It was determined as a low threat and the sensor arrays were set to mostly ignore the rock. A small subset was left tracking and recording as was the standard procedure.

The lonely wanderer entered the upper atmosphere in a fiery blaze less than six hours after it had been analysed and catalogued. A few vessels were re-routed away from any potential debris, but the risk would have been very slight, even without the automatic zone of concern collisions would have been unlikely. As predicted it broke up into eight pieces that spun lazily away from each other as they shrank in an incandescent rage against the blackness of the night sky.

Had anyone been looking with their eyes they may have seen the brief streak of the asteroid and its death shatter into pieces. The event was less than two seconds in length and dim against the glow of the moons in the lower part of the sky, but still visible if you were far away from a city.

No trace of the asteroid was left after the brief spark. It had been despatched to the world. The small particles of dust would have bounced into the upper atmosphere or would slowly descend as dust or particles trapped in rain over the next hours. The energy trapped in the rock had been released in a bright flame during its final breath.

The eight stealth vessels that were hidden inside the core of the asteroid each followed the trajectory of the final breakup of the rock. They had full adaptive shells that reflected virtually all transmissions. They had the most recent gravity adjustment technology which had allowed them to achieve almost zero weight and zero inertia. They had come to an almost complete stop in the final moment of the asteroids death and then started their slow descent towards their target.

The suits would take almost a day to descend to the correct height. Their motion was slower than a leaf gently drifting on a breeze. The sensor array of the location they headed towards was amazingly accurate and so a high degree of patience was needed to approach without detection. 

The occupants of the suits were all ignorant of their surroundings. The stealth canopies blocked all transmissions both in and out, they had to hope that the passive guidance and automated trajectories were accurate and would take them to the correct location. They would find out in less than a day if the first stage of the infiltration was successful.

Written in 365 Parts: 116: Tailing the Quarry

The visitor to the survival tent was both cautious and careful. They had led the drones on a merry dance across almost the whole length of the continent. The vehicle the quarry was piloting was equipped with stealth technology and body alteration machinery. Everytime it joined heavy traffic, as it entered and exited the two main population centres, it switched colours at the first opportunity. Long overpasses, tunnels, or under-highway sections were the best locations. It altered both identification and shape when in areas of low observation.

The watcher made sure to monitor local cameras and judiciary monitors, and noted, with little surprise, that they were either non-operational or entered self test modes whenever the vehicle did one of its costume changes. To further complicate matters, the driver used the under-city parts of the main population centre with the habits of a seasoned professional. Using tunnels and low walkways, backroutes and gang runs that were dangerous to the casual driver and bereft of camera or judiciary oversight. Locations that were unobserved by everyone was a good chance to check for tails, and to lose any unwanted observation. Had the watcher not been in close communication with additional help the quarry would have evaded them and the drones.

This was not the case. Although it had been over forty hours since the airstrike that had eliminated the survival tent the quarry had not been out of observation range for anything greater than a tenth of a second. The watcher was fairly certain that they hadn’t evaded them and that this was the person who met them in the tent.

Finally the vehicle entered the city at a sensible speed as a non-descript grey transport vehicle. It was registered to a local hire company that could be traced back to being owned by a series of subsidiary companies. This was not that irregular, there were only two big vehicle combines in the system. It was easy enough to hide specialist vehicles in offshoot organisations and only have them used by select clients. It was a tactic the judiciary also employed, primarily for governmental undercover investigations. 

The vehicle was left in a parking lot, long stay, a quick overlay from one of the drones showed it being put into the annual slots. So they obviously had this craft on a semi-permanent basis. That information was filed for later investigation into the long term parking areas of the planet. Always good to know where things could be hidden, and used without attracting undue attention.

The quarry had used the forty hours driving around, likely the vast majority on auto-pilot, to make significant changes to their own physiology. They were now clearly displaying as a male with almost no visible body hair and an exotic mix of gang tattoos. They were taller by at least six inches and had more body mass. 

They were dressed in rough street clothing, a t-shirt that would have made a vagrant look badly dressed and uncouth. A striped green and purple jacket that had been patched a number of times, and was displaying at least four illicit tags, banned in the upper city for their offensive nature. Yellow, plastic work pants, likely water and chemical resistant, and polymer boots in a bright blue further brought the outfit into disrepute.

They quickly made their way to the nearest gravity tube and passed the ident over the scanner. Good. This had been anticipated and the watcher had already instructed the support team to access all local public transport systems. The computer experts being used were amongst the best and they would have access to low level readers in the nearest couple of city blocks. There was a moments wait before the ident of Xavier Minch flashed onto their screen. A lifetime ganger born and raised at below street level. They had no fixed affiliation but they did pay their Union fees so were able to move around with little molestation aside from that which they brought upon themselves in the course of their lifestyle.

The watcher re-keyed the drones to follow Minch and the public transport, making sure to send some drones ahead to watch the various stops on the gravity tube. They contacted the rest of the team and instructed them of the next stage of the plan. If they got their guess correctly Minch would head as far down as possible, maybe level one or two and then hang out at a Union protected location. It is what they would do. It was the most logical thing for the quarry to do. And the watcher dearly hoped that they would do such.

Written in 365 Parts: 115: Psychological Reaction

“So easy questions then,” Drick opened a small drawer and grabbed a polymer jumpsuit pulling it from its sealed pouch. Drick flicked the colour to a neutral grey and detached the dye unit. The outfit unfurled easily and inflated slightly as the supercompression of vacuum sealing was negated by atmosphere. Drick quickly started to pull it on.

Drick noticed from their peripheral vision Marsh trying not to look at their form as Drick dressed, but his eyes occasionally wandered. Drick checked their muscle tone and shape in the mirror and then flicked an internal screen to show a representation of themselves from Marsh’s viewpoint.

Trim waist, but that was more down to food supplements and a strong love of running. Wide shoulders, but not broad, from regular workouts with weapons and fighting styles. Well defined ribcage with strong upper muscle structure, more of the fighting styles bonus. Legs were tight with muscle from the running and kick-boxing fascinations. 

Overall a well defined body structure. However Drick was slight, less than one metre sixty-five in height. There was also the fact that from a certain angle the upper body structure looked more feminine in muscle tone. There was no specific design in this, an accident of training and preference. Drick kept themselves trim and focussed on muscles that gave them more punching thrust and supporting lift in the upper arms, this built up the groups of muscles fore and aft of the upper rib cage. From the side Drick imagined it might give a traditionally more female body sculpt. 

Drick raised an internal eyebrow and felt themselves pursing their lips. It was slightly surprising they were thinking in this manner. But it hadn’t been the first time recently. For the sake of curiosity Drick pulled up detailed analytical statistics for their internal chemical balances. There were spikes in dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin and serotonin when they were in Marsh’s presence. These had been increasing as Drick had been interacting with him on a greater basis. 

Drick would have growled if it was someone else telling them these things, but they couldn’t ignore the reactions of their own brain. They knew that there was some base level attraction, it appeared to be growing. The chemical reactions and the feeling of tension when thinking about him were evidence. As was the over-protective stance. Drick should have realised this earlier and suppressed it. It was just a psychological reaction based on the tension and uncertainty. Marsh had natural good looks, and was charming with his sweet little-boy-lost naivety. It was easy to feel protective and then attracted to such things, it was an organic condition.

All of this was a side-effect from Marsh needing so much help. It was the puppy reaction, nothing more. Next Drick would have to fix him with a collar, rub his tummy and take him for long walks in the desert. Drick flashed a signal to have hormone suppressents sent to the room and turned their attention back to getting dressed and dealing with Marsh.

Marsh was sat on the bed looking at the window, which was actually just a projection of a window onto the resin surface of the wall. It looked real enough and had haptic sensation. So it could be cool, and almost moist to the touch if required, it would even simulate condensation if the temperature shown outside was cooler. “Easy questions was your que to speak, Marsh.”

“I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. Part of me wants to tell them to go to hell. I mean they were part of whatever this is. This plan that has multiple me living, and probably dying. Then the rest of me wants to see them. To have an attachment that is real here. An actual mother. I know they were a surrogate. But here that’s not just unusual it is almost an impossibility. Everyone is grown in a tank. You have people who ditch their bodies if they can afford an upgrade. Almost everyone can afford some form of augment, or has an augment for the purposes of a career. Everyone has those groovy identification images that play on your flesh. Everyone has implants and connections to vast stores of potential things to do. Having a connection is special here. It is pretty much unique. I would be a fool not to have that affect me. And where I come from, the person who gave birth to you, is always going to be your mother, even if you have more than one mother in your life otherwise.”

“I think you have your answer.”

“Do I?”

“Yes. Let’s go and get some breakfast with the option of spirits to enhance it. Best to have food, be comfortable and try to relax. I will then get your mother.”

Written in 365 Parts: 114: Rude Awakening

The cannister was almost empty, but the precious oxygen was almost in reach…

The lights came on automatically. The proximity alert sounded for a person approaching the door and Drick sat bolt upright in the bed. The sheets fell down around Drick’s waist as they stiffened in surprise. There was a flash and a chime as someone touched the courtesy call outside the doorway.

“Enter,” said Drick and flashed an alert to the room sensors to put the lighting to dim. A hand readied the small plasma ejector that was in the thigh holster, bringing it out to point at the doorway from under the covers.

The doorway opened and Drick made out the shadow of Marsh before the programmed lighting effect lit them clearly while leaving the room in a haze. Always disorientate anyone walking through a doorway. “What’s the matter, Marsh?” asked Drick.

“Can I come in?” The voice was soft and a little hesitant.

“Sure,” Drick flicked the weapon back into its holster and signalled the room to put the light to ambient evening. Drick got out of the bed. They were naked and they noted that Marsh averted their gaze. “You don’t have to, you know?”

“I know,” he said, “I guess it is a programmed response. The me, this me, is based on, would respond this way.”

“Really, “ Drick was pulling on cotton shorts and a vest top. “Why? I thought they were ex-military?”

“They were,” Drick noticed a slight blush, “we still only had semi-mixed barracks and clearly defined, if sometimes self-declared, gender divisions.”

“Well, that’s fine for a regimen. But in society, was it still really that way? Also I have no clearly defined gender. Is that an issue?”

“In some places society still had a problem.” he looked around the room quickly, “not for me, obviously, though since I said call me he…” Marsh left the statement alone, he smiled and made a slight cough of nervousness? “I have no issue. As for gender, well it’s a part of things but it isn’t everything that makes up a person. I guess you all have moved past that, but in my time, or the time I am made to be from, sex and gender and who you were, they were still wrapped together like melted toffee. People didn’t know how to separate attraction of a person from desire entrenched in physiology. The fluidity wasn’t there. Begs the question though, do you have any monogamy, or long term mono relationships?”

“Sure we do, in fact we have as much as any other form of relationship. I am not an expert but I suspect everything is represented in one quantity or another, we just don’t have any reliance on any one being superior or a normal. Not even a comaniality. Depends on location sometimes, or the latest media sensation.”

“Anyway, not a problem, just being me I guess.” He laughed but Drick could hear the nervousness, he was trying not to offend. Not that he held a contrasting opinion, but that he was unsure of what was right. 

“Going to fill me in on what that means then? Is this why you woke me up? I am really not an expert. Or is there something else, you did wake me from a rather challenging dream.”

Marsh stared at Drick for a few moments, “maybe I am not the only one who should elaborate. You okay?”

“If that means, am I good, then yes. If it means that I have a rather annoying residual memory, then also yes. If it means do you want to talk about it, then get the heck out of here. Why did you come?”

“Residual memory?”

“Ignore it. A long time ago, a bad event on a space vessel, seems to be haunting me recently. It isn’t an issue. Why are you really here?”

“I don’t know what to do.” Marsh sat on the bed.

“About?”

“Should I talk to the person who claims to be my mother?”

Written in 365 Parts: 113: Desiccated Popsicle

Drick tumbled lazily in a slightly off motion which meant they were not only spinning on the axis of their upright body but along the axis of their arms. The effect was disorientating and likely to lead to a new pattern on the inside of the visor titled ‘too much hint of vomit’. Drick quickly darkened the visor screen and closed eyes to look at internal sensors. That was much better. Without the visual data they may as well have been motionless. In this environment only the visual senses attempted to assert a sense of upright.

Drick assessed the situation in the hope of working out a solution. They had decided to be as dispassionate as possible, utilise their training, not swear any more than was absolutely warranted by the current predicament which limited it to a string of blasphemous phrases for every sentence. 

The oxygen bottle, that had been discarded to use the harpoon weapon, was floating just metres from reach. It was tumbling towards them slightly but the best hope for an intercept of position was seven hundred hours away. That was a problem.

The vessel was outside of radio range and that itself meant little as their was radio silence from the moment before the insurgents attack. Clearly they had damaged the comms first. So by the time anyone reconnected, assuming they were friendly, they would still be out of range of the suit. However Drick did activate all the suit comms units, and the emergency beacon, as sometimes the massive dice of luck rolled in your direction.

The nearest inhabitable region of space was a mere three light years from the current position along the current trajectory, at the suits current velocity, and it was fortunate that there were no forces that would intervene with Drick’s course, the closest approach to a potential beacon was just one hundred and fourteen years from now. On the plus side the beacon on the suit was good for a few thousand years so someone might pick up the dessicated popsicle that Drick would be, by then.

The suit was mostly intact. There was a rip in the outer surface that had not penetrated the inner latex layer or the tight polymer weave below that. All the layers were pressure tested, so this was not an issue. Drick had some patch glue in a pouch, so this could be repaired. Drick scheduled it as a task to do once they had reached the state of surviving beyond minutes.

The immediate issue was the impending death from lack of oxygen. This was inevitable in fewer than nineteen minutes. The oxygen tank that had been used to bash the insurgents helmet floated lazily nearby. From the scanner report, and the lack of it spinning around at high speed, or speeding off in a random direction, it was likely to be still pressurised without leakage. It was ultra compressed liquid oxygen, with the recycler it would give Drick close to sixty hours of atmosphere. If Drick induced a medical coma it would give over two hundred hours of atmosphere. If Drick had a full suspension unit then they could last for centuries. Pity the last one wasn’t floating nearby. Two hundred hours however, beat by some distance in time a shade over eighteen minutes.

Drick analysed the suit that they had hastily thrown on. It was a standard hard suit, nothing fancy, but the ship wasn’t either. So they had standard equipment. This was actually an advantage. Had this been a movie Drick would have smiled ruefully. They didn’t. They didn’t show any emotion just a recognition that the makers of the suit had done proper procedure. There was an emergency balloon spray in the right hip pocket. Intended to form a patch on a bulkhead or gasket seal. Mostly unimportant right now. The important part was that it was pressurised.

Drick set the internal computer to working out the calculations for angle, trajectory and intercept course while they set to modifying the small canister. It was tricky work. The suit was bulky. The canister was small. The tools were few. The universe was spinning around in a technicolour threat. However the visor could be switched to wireframe display with schematic overlay and cameras fixed to geostationary rotation. The tools were magnetic so couldn’t be lost, and Drick had performed advanced military training in much heavier armour.

Fourteen minutes later Drick was pulsing a modified spray of chemicals, and tumbling, almost haphazardly, towards the oxygen bottle.